Michael Mason and his Exploratory Ensemble: Angels of Fire

Drawing upon intensely personal experience, composer and flutist Michael Mason and his Exploratory Ensemble offer an eloquent, moving journey of the heart on Angels of Fire (Southport S-SSD 0075; 68:41). Through a complex suite of intricate, elemental pieces, Mason remembers the devastation of a 1958 fire that destroyed Our Lady of the Angels school in Chicago, taking the lives of 92 children and three nuns. Mason, who survived to become a firefighter himself, as well as an accomplished musician, brings both tragedy and triumph to life through pieces like the percussive, tribal-elemental “Courage of the Heart” and the lithe, pretty “The Light, the Heat.” Mason’s flute can be the graceful voice of hope-as on the Irish-toned “Brotherhood”-or a searching, passionate whirlwind, as pitted against brutally dark percussion for “Firefight.” Visually illustrative (guitar riffs and woodwind hits flicker and lap like flames) as well as emotive, Mason’s compositions often explore darkness, but carry strong life-affirming overtones through pieces like the gently acoustic “The Healing.” Through words and music (the album package includes both historic documentation and survivor stories), Angels presents a compelling, unforgettable tale of courage and strength.